Working for minimum wage: 'There's no room for advancement'

Life could be different for Darcy Landau if the Minnesota Legislature had agreed this year to raise the minimum wage beyond the federal-mandated $7.25 an hour. (The House was willing to match the $9.50 an hour called for by advocates for the poor. The Senate bill offered a 50-cent-an hour increase. Compromise efforts failed, but don’t doubt legislators will hear the plea increase again in 2014.) Age 56 and a college graduate, for the past six years Landau has worked minimum-wage jobs at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport cleaning aircraft and jet-ways, running a warehouse forklift and now is employed as a traveler’s aide.

Part of a series of first-person accounts relating to news events of 2013.

I’ve worked a warehouse job for six years and now I’m pushing wheelchairs for going on eight months. I’m college-educated and been in the military and newly engaged. I’m doing all this on minimum wage.

I help out the handicapped, elderly, disabled, men, women, children. I’m the guy you see helping people in and out of the aircraft or getting them to the next gate or helping them get a bite to eat at the local restaurant. I like the work; it’s very honorable work. It’s honest work. I love my life. I can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I get $7.25 an hour.

It has always been a struggle for me to find a job that pays very well. That’s why I went back to college, to try and break the mold. I took some courses, consolidated them, went back to school when I was 37 and graduated when I was 43. I have two degrees [in world history].

Community Sketchbook, reported and written by Cynthia Boyd, focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them. It is made possible by sponsorship support from The Minneapolis Foundation. Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundation.

I thought I could get into a company and work my way in [with] like customer service. I’ve applied for customer service jobs with sporting retail stores. I’m an outdoorsman.

I thought about doing some tutoring. It takes a master’s to do that. I did very well in school. I graduated with a good grade point average...about a C-plus. I might go back to school, get a master’s degree.

[Out of the military] I worked a year and a half and then decided to go back to school. I continued on in vocational colleges, trying to find a skill I could do. It took me a lifetime to figure out I’m not a hands-on type of guy. I was pursuing a career in sheet-metal fabrication or blueprint making. All they want is your money. They don’t tell you straight out if you’re right for the course. The same thing applies to going to college, in a way.

Right now they’re cutting back my hours because things are kind of slow but it should go back to 40 hours once things get busy with the holiday season. [Right now] I work five days a week, 8 in the morning until 2:30.

I’m living off money from a disability I have. I have a little tinnitus, ringing in my ears.

I get tips on my job. Last year I made about $17,000 working for the warehouse at the airport. Disability is about $100 a month. The money goes toward my car, student-loan payments, rent and food.

I don’t like going to the food shelves because they don’t understand I’m diabetic. They don’t understand a diabetic diet and my need to eat healthy. They’ll send you some where else if you rely on them more than once a month.

I go out to eat occasionally, but don’t travel. I use my disability to take the light rail. I pay about $410 a month [in rent]. I live in VA [Veteran’s Administration] low-income housing….

I’m newly engaged. She makes more money than I do. We’re not living together yet or married. We’re planning.

I [advocate with] Take Action Minnesota [for] SEIU [Service Employees International Union]. We’re trying to increase the minimum wage by going to MAC [Metropolitan Airports Commission], letting them know about our dilemma.

I’ve tried real hard to get into management. It seems like it takes a lot to get by in a world that frowns on kindness. It’s a cut-throat world, especially in the job market.There’s no room for advancement, whether it’s pay-wise or moving up in management. They figure once you’re poor, you’re always poor.

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    Cynthia Boyd's picture
    Cynthia Boyd

    Cynthia Boyd writes Community Sketchbook for MinnPost.